One of the first steps in re-enchantment is to become religious. This is something of a controversial view, so I better define exactly what I mean.
When I refer to religion, I don’t mean belief in some gaseous invertebrate floating in space that will smite you if you don’t believe in Him. I’m also not referring to the practice of turning up at a steepled church every Sunday to mouth a few empty paeans to this same invertebrate, from fear that you might end up somewhere hot and reeking of brimstone for eternity when you die. That’s not religion, it’s just attempting to connect with something bigger than yourself so you don’t get swamped whenever you contemplate your own insignificance in the universe. You don’t even need a church for that; that sense of belonging is obtainable from your football club, your political affiliation or through your subculture. My homeboy, Carl Jung, dubbed this participation mystique.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’m also not talking about some anaemic new age Source of Light/Love/Unity that can’t be defined or pinned down but gives you a warm uplifting feeling like it’s lab-grade spiritual prozac.
I’m using the word in a very literal sense. The word itself, ‘religion’ comes from the same Latin root as ligature: ligare. Re-ligare: to bind again. Interestingly, the word religion is also cognate with the words rely and liable and is antonymous with negligent. Read into that what you will.
By religion, I mean a personal relationship with the world that is expressed through symbol. In practise, religion is a symbol system built through myth, prayer, ritual and archetype. In this definition, religion represents an individual’s relationship with their own universe. There cannot be one True Religion: in fact there are 7.5 billion true religions! I’m also not saying that there shouldn’t be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or any other common belief system, but rather that your Christianity should look different from mine and from everybody else’s. It’s natural that there will be some overlap as we inhabit a world where we share common symbols and mythologies. However, my religion is pertinent to me and me only. As is yours.
- an act of world-creation
- an act of poetic terrorism
- an act of deep ecology
Think about it: the universe is vast beyond comprehension. It makes no inherent sense to the rational mind because it cannot be apprehended rationally. I’m not saying that there isn’t an appearance of order; that is different to rationality. Rationality is a human construct and the universe we inhabit is beyond rationality. Therefore we need to apprehend it in an irrational way through symbols like myth, prayer and archetype, which are all manifestations of our irrational unconscious. Religion is a rational response to living in an irrational universe
To make sense of this senselessness, to survive without massive ego loss, one needs to create a symbol system that is personally relevant and meaningful. You could piggy back onto someone else’s, but as I’ve described above that’s not religion. The truly religious person is drawing upon their own experience, their own relationship with the world and their own understanding of it to construct something that is a unique and personal expression. It doesn’t have to be coherent or consistent, just so long as it makes sense and gives meaning to them. Religion empowers you to make your own meaning of the world and not be suckered into someone else’s.
In an age of mass-produced culture, eschewing participation mystique and creating your own individual religion is an act of subversion. Participation mystique is a complete abdication of your responsibility to create your own meaning in the world. It’s much more convenient for those with control that you adhere to the religions you’ve been culturally conditioned to, rather than forge your own way. By using their symbol structures you open yourself more readily to control and manipulation.
With your own personal religion, institutional dogma and hierarchies cannot control your belief systems as easily as they can when they’re telling you what to believe and how. In an indiviualistic culture that emphasises shallow cultural role models as a means of dumbing down the population this is almost an imperative. Make your own religion, be your own god!
Finally, it’s poetic because religion is much an aesthetic position as it is a meaning-making one. Religion is ultimately a creative expression of your worldview.
Binding yourself to the universe, becoming more attenuated to the world in which you live draws you into a closer relationship with it. Cause and effect become more clear, as does systemic awareness. Environmental awareness begins with knowledge of your place in the ecosystem and a religous practice turbocharges this. That is ecology.
It’s taken me many years to get to this frame of thinking. I’ve been fascinated by religion since I was young, but grew up an atheist and deep down consider myself agnostic. I have conversed with a god but definitely don’t believe in “God” as a hoary dude or any other thing, although I find some of the gnostic belief systems quite appealing. I’ve long been taken with Grant Morrison’s take on our own divinity, which is essentially a form of gnosticism.
My personal religion is very much a work in progress: a hodgepodge of Thelema, animism, pop Buddhism & Hinduism, Jungian psychology and shamanistic practice. I love mythology, I pray, I’m a massive fan of Liber Resh as a daily practise, I like talking to inaminate things, I carry several of my ancestors as personal allies and I have several other ritual tricks in my kit bag.
Sometimes my religious system is completely contradictory based upon my mood or my desire to avoid falling into fundamentalism. One thing I like about Thelema is that it is left up to the individual to interpret it in anyway that he or she sees fit without recourse to the ideas of anyone else, which is kind of what I’ve argued here. However, I find that this instruction is occasionally undercut but the slavish adherence and adoration of Thelema that I’ve observed here and there. This is participation mystique again. It’s an easy trap to fall into; we all do it in countless ways and religions are funnels for this kind of belief system. However, it becomes more marked when it occurs in a system that is centred upon self-directed gnosis. But then again, who am I to criticise another’s free interpretation of a individualistic doctrine?
To wrap up, the point of this essay is that it isn’t what you believe or which entity you believe in or even how you go about doing it. It’s just that you believe in something, no matter how ridiculous, nonsensical or illogical. It’s that you have some kind of symbolic practise and framework that binds you to this world and that you take steps to maintain it. Finally and most importantly, whatever you believe please don’t force it upon anyone else. Religion is a private conversation between you and your universe. Enjoy it: it’s for you only!